Steel. Lumber. Concrete. Brick. Stone. Copper. Glass. Construction sites are replete with tough, durable materials and tools to match, and as a construction worker, you need a durable watch able to match the equipment you use every single day. Impacts and shock are a regular occurrence, generating their own rhythmic beats and sounds. Dust. Dirt. Sand. Wind. Rain. Sleet. Snow. Your office is a tough one, and climate control is something known only to pencil pushers you may never meet. The weather can change instantly, calling on you to trust your tools and gear to shrug off the threats of sun and shade. Telling time is no less important, because your deadlines will be here soon. You don’t compromise on your truck, your tools, or your safety gear. Why should your watch be any different?
When shopping for tough, durable watches, the ubiquitous G-Shock series is impossible to ignore, so it comes as no surprise that the Casio G-Shock GWM500A-1 earns the top spot on this list. This beefy, 46-millimeter watch boasts the famous G-Shock durability with its mineral crystal, 200-meter water resistance rating, and matching shock-resistant construction. The LCD watch face clearly displays the time, day, and date for quick, easy reading and features multi-band atomic timekeeping for extreme accuracy and precision. The black resin band is tough and durable, yet lightweight to minimize perceived bulk. Once fully charged, the solar-powered quartz movement can run for nine months without a recharge. In addition to the full-auto EL Backlight with Afterglow, this watch includes a world time feature, five alarms (one with snooze), a stopwatch, a timer, and more. While the price tag might seem a little stiff at first, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another solar-powered atomic watch with this combination of toughness and relative affordability.
While G-Shocks may carry a reputation for toughness, the Casio G-Shock Rangeman GW-9400 has to be the toughest of them all. At 53 millimeters in diameter, the Rangeman GW-9400 is quite large, yet the included features warrant the extra bulk. This solar-powered quartz watch comes with an LCD face with the time, day, and date displayed most prominently beneath the mineral crystal. The large, textured pushers nicely accommodate both gloved and bare hands and control the five alarms (one with snooze), stopwatch, timer, digital compass, and other helpful features. The altimeter, thermometer, and barometer provide you with local atmospheric data to help keep an eye on the weather, while the movement syncs to an atomic clock for enhanced precision. The backlit display, 200-meter water resistance rating, and resin band round out this Rangeman GW-9400, making an impressive, albeit expensive, watch perfectly suited to construction environments.
Sometimes, you need a watch that won’t break the bank, especially should you encounter the need to replace it. The Timex Ironman Endure 30 Shock is such a watch. Available in a handful of colors, this 42-millimeter quartz watch is a beefed up version of Timex’s classic Ironman 30, another impressive timekeeper. The Ironman Endure 30 Shock outperforms its popular sibling with a 200-meter water resistance rating and a shock-resistant construction engineered to meet ISO standards. It comes with a resin body and band, while a buffable acrylic crystal protects the easy-to-read face. The LCD face clearly displays the time, day, and date, while the pushers are large enough to accommodate gloved hands with ease, and Timex’s famous Indiglo technology makes for easy reading in poor lighting. This watch includes dual time zones, a stopwatch, and three alarms that can be set to go off daily, every weekday or during the weekend. And with its 10-year battery life, the Ironman Endure 30 Shock was built to last.
If you prefer to go old school, then consider snagging a Luminox Leatherback Sea Turtle Giant. This 44-millimeter analog watch is built like an A-10. The carbon compound case comes with a durable yet lightweight polyurethane strap with a stainless steel buckle. The Swiss-made quartz movement provides excellent precision, giving you an accurate sense of time at any time of day, and the date window makes sure you never lose track of your place on the calendar. The Luminox’s self-powered illumination system uses three distinct colors to make reading your watch in the dark a breeze. Protecting the watch face is a scratch-resistant, tempered mineral crystal seated inside a unidirectional rotating bezel for those who like a little extra functionality in their watch. Of course, no Luminox would be complete without a water resistance rating, and the Leatherback Sea Turtle Giant is no exception, withstanding submersions down to 100 meters. Our only complaint with this Luminox is the price tag, although such is to be expected from this seemingly indestructible analog timepiece.
If you’ve grown to love the capabilities of modern smart devices yet still want to wear a timepiece on your wrist, take a closer look at the Garmin Instinct. The rugged GPS watch was built for outdoor workers and adventurers as evidenced by the straightforward LCD-style display and MIL-STD-810G-compliant engineering (100-meter water resistance rating and shock resistance rating for electronic devices). It comes with plenty of bonus features for both indoor and outdoor athletes and easily connects with your smartphone. In addition to its massive array of modes and sensors, the Instinct includes a battery with a 14-day runtime in smartwatch mode. The internals are protected by a fiber-reinforced polymer case, and a vented silicone band secures the watch to your wrist. The Instinct comes in a wide variety of colors and is available in both tactical and surf versions. Best of all, each version comes with a solar-powered variant for those who are always on the go.
Why should you trust us
Probably my most overlooked hobby is curating reliable EDC and safety gear of one kind or another, and durable watches certainly fall within the category of trusted equipment. I’ve worn a handful of watches over the years, and like with any other category of gear, I am also looking for the next best option on the market that won’t kill my budget. Previously, I have written about the best watches for any situation in addition to covering safety glasses, pocket knives, ear protection, and flashlights.
Different kinds of work watches
Most watches destined for life on construction sites will be powered by electricity and keep time by way of a precise quartz movement (i.e., the “engine”). Unlike the mechanical watches found in personal collections and museums, quartz watches for construction workers require little to no maintenance and can take incredible abuse without failing. While many generate power by battery, the best “set ‘em and forget ‘em” watches run off solar power, harnessing the light of the sun and even electrical lights to keep you moving without losing time.
Everyone knows the age of the smartwatch has arrived, and for some, these timekeeping wonders are the only way to go. Most run off of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, while some take a queue from the quartz world and tap into that burning ball of fire overhead and the lesser lights of man to power their high-tech capabilities.
Features to look for in work watches
Easily the most valuable feature for any construction watch is durability. A watch that can’t take a beating and keep on ticking has no place in a world of knocks and bruises. The most durable watches use high-quality cases, crystals, and bands in order to resist water, dust, and shock. The most durable cases and bands rely on steel, resin, and other tough materials to survive the strain, while the crystal protecting your work watch’s face could be inexpensive yet buffable acrylic, tough yet affordable mineral crystal, or incredibly scratch-resistant (and pricey) sapphire.
Using a watch in less-than-ideal conditions means that it must be easy to read in a wide variety of conditions. First, consider whether or not your eyes more easily read a traditional analog setup with ticking hands or a straightforward LCD display with time, day, and date “stamped” in place. Next, consider lighting, and look for a light with practical illumination. Whether your watch relies on photoluminescent (glow-in-the-dark) paint, tritium inserts, or Timex’s famous Indiglo lighting, you can’t go wrong. Finally, consider the size of your watch face. The larger it is, the more legible it will be, but with added size comes added bulk and weight.
As a general rule, construction zones lack protection from the elements, so look for a watch that can resist water, dust, and shock. Water resistance is measured in meters or atmospheres. Timepieces with a 100-meter or 10-atmosphere (10ATM or 10BAR) rating can withstand static water pressures down to 100 meters without failing and can handle more than their fair share of precipitation and submersion. While dust resistance is harder to measure, certain watch lines, like the Casio G-Shock series, can handle dust, dirt, and mud with ease. Finally, watch shock resistance is measured by ISO standards in order to guarantee resistance against certain kinds of impacts.
No matter how few features your watch may have, it will require your personal input at some point, and having a watch with appropriately-sized pushers (buttons) is an important consideration. If you rely on timers, chronographs, and other watch complications (non-timekeeping features), then large pushers are a must, especially if you wear gloves for any significant amount of time.
Do you need a work watch?
While it may be five o’clock somewhere, your boss may not appreciate that fact should you try to head out a bit too early for his liking. To keep track of time, you will need a durable watch that can withstand the rigors of the construction site, because the last thing you need is to pull out your smartphone every time you want to check the time. Unlike less-rugged watches, a construction watch is defined less by its form factor and more by its resistance to abuse (unintentional or otherwise) and the elements. The next time a pre-staged brick should fall out of place and hit your watch, you’ll be doubly glad you invested the cash to snag a tough watch for your daily driver.
Pricing ranges for work watches
Durable watches for construction workers run the gamut in turns of cost and features, but for a truly reliable option that won’t break your budget, be prepared to spend somewhere between $30 and $75 with many options hovering somewhere near the $50 mark. These watches usually feature a plastic, resin, or stainless steel housing (or some combination thereof) and a composite band. They also include alarms, timers, an LCD display, day and date combinations, and 100-meter water resistance. Watches in the $75 to $150 range frequently include many of the same features, although their build materials tend to be a little tougher and bit higher-end, even if the essential materials remain the same. They may add shock and dust resistance as well as a variety of other goodies, such as a barometer or other weather-related sensors, to the list of bonuses. You may even discover a few smartwatches in this category. Top-tier quartz watches and good, tough smartwatches usually cost over $150, although the extra features can provide quite a return on that investment.
How we chose our top picks
When reviewing new gear, we much prefer to go the hands-on route, but sometimes, a lack of resources may thwart our attempts to get our mitts on some cool gear. To make sure we don’t let you down, we take the time to listen to those who have firsthand experience, combing through reviews on Amazon, professional publications, enthusiast blogs, and more to bring you the best intel available. We sift through it all, keep the gold, and toss the rest.
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